As many as 30,071 children were orphaned, lost a parent or abandoned mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic as per data submitted by different states till June 5, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) informed the Supreme Court on Monday.
Of the total, 26,176 children have lost a parent, 3,621 have been orphaned and 274 have been abandoned, the NCPCR said.
The commission further said that the state-wise data received regarding children who have lost either their mother or father or both parents from April 1, 2020 to June 5, 2021, irrespective of their reason of death (not only death due to COVID-19), was uploaded on its "Bal Swaraj" portal and collated by it.
It said Maharashtra has been worst affected with 7,084 children being orphaned, abandoned or have lost a parent mostly to the deadly virus since April 1 last year.
In its affidavit filed in the suo motu matter taken up by the top court, the NCPCR said other states where children are most affected include Uttar Pradesh (3,172), Rajasthan (2,482), Haryana (2,438), Madhya Pradesh (2,243), Andhra Pradesh (2,089), Kerala (2,002), Bihar (1,634) and Odisha (1,073).
It said that in Maharashtra out of the total 7,084 children, 6,865 have lost one parent, 217 have been orphaned and two children have been abandoned, while Madhya Pradesh tops the chart where 226 have been abandoned.
The NCPCR said that among the affected, boys are 15,620, girls (14,447) and transgender (4), with most children falling in the category of 8 to 13 years of age (11,815).
It said that children affected between the age group of 0 to 3 years are 2,902, 4-7 years group are 5,107 and 14 to 15 years are 4,908. It said that children affected between 16 to below 18 years are 5,339 in numbers.
The commission clarified that the total data given in the present affidavit includes the data already submitted to the court till May 29, which said that 9,346 children were abandoned, orphaned or lost a parent mostly to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It said that data uploading is an ongoing process, which is for identification of the CNCPs (Child in Need of Care and Protection) and the real time tracking to ensure welfare for those children.
The NCPCR once again flagged concern that it has been receiving many complaints in the past month or so alleging that there are private people and organizations involved in data collection of such children stating that they want to provide assistance to the children and the families.
These organizations/ people are giving away these orphaned children to families in adoption without following the procedure given under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, it added.
"The Act, besides providing for an extensive procedure for children who have lost family support or are in need of assistance, also provides for an exhaustive procedure for adoption of orphan/abandoned/surrendered children.
"The adoption of orphan/ abandoned/ surrendered children is lawful only after the adoption procedure as given under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015 is followed and the final adoption order is passed by the prescribed authority," it said.
The NCPCR said it is also receiving information regarding disclosure of children's identity/ information by government authorities to private NGOs and organizations.
"It is further humbly submitted that care must be taken by the authorities to ensure that their any action is not in violation of Section 74 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015. It is humbly submitted that the aforesaid provision prohibits disclosure of identity of children with regard to the name, school, age, address etc. of the child, which would reveal the essential details of the child and could help in identifying the child," it said.
The commission sought direction to all States/UTs that any confidential information about children must not be placed in public domain or provided to any person/ entity/ organization which would make them susceptible to trafficking, abuse, illegal adoption etc.
"It is requested that unless there is an order/ recommendation of CWC (child welfare committee) for disclosing the identity of the child in any manner or the same is required for the purpose of sponsorship/ financial support/ legally free for adoption/ restoration/ necessary as per provisions of JJ Act or any other law, the identity of the child must not be disclosed and no information related to children should be given to any person/entity/organization", it said.
The affidavit said that the Commission is also concerned to note that several NGOs are seeking monetary support in the name of children impacted by COVID. "Considering that the Children in distress situations are wards of State, it is imperative for all concerned to immediately inform the statutory authority about any such child noticed by them.
"The Court may be pleased to direct the NGOs, if they find a child in need of care and protection'' then state/ district authorities must be alerted in consonance with Government of India instructions to States", it said.
The NCPCR sought directions to all the states/ Union Territories to create a State Juvenile Justice Fund with the bank account details provided to the general public in order to enable them to credit donations/ contributions/ subscriptions directly in the said Account.